Deconstruction underway on old bridge
No sooner had the Grand Avenue bridge closed just after midnight Monday than demolition crews were hard at work ripping into the old structure to remove it and make way for the new bridge.
The anticipated two-week-long operation was well underway when the morning rush hour traffic through the Colorado 82 detour route started ramping up before dawn.
“Everything was going OK and according to plan,” Tom Newland, public information manger for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said late Monday afternoon following a full day of deconstruction activity.
“We did have to stop work for a train, and that will be an ongoing thing where we will stop and go depending on what [Union Pacific] says,” Newland said.
The UP has a dedicated project manager charged with coordinating train movements beneath the bridge as the demolition work proceeds.
“Every time a train comes in, we have to stop work until they unload, in the case of Amtrak, or they pass through,” Newland said, adding he anticipates that could be as many as 10 times a day.
Meanwhile, downtown merchants were a little on edge as they opened for business Monday amid the crashing and banging of the concrete demolition and removal of the bridge railings right outside their front doors.
Still, most were trying to stay upbeat.
“Heck, we’re used to running from hurricanes, this bridge thing is nothing,” said Gabe Griffin, owner of the Lost Cajun restaurant.
“It’s really slow right now, but we’ve decided we’re going to stick it out,” he said, adding the restaurant did alter its hours a bit, opening at noon for lunch instead of 11 a.m.
Noel Bismark, owner of the Dancing Bear Trading Post located right at ground zero in the 700 block of Grand, said his business was off probably 60 percent compared with the previous Monday.
“It’s pretty cool to watch, but it’s not so good for business,” he said. “I’m all for progress, and this will be great when it’s done, but this does hurt us.
“The good thing is that we can see the horizon,” Bismark said of the critical fourth stage of the two-year bridge project that will see the last segment of the new bridge built into the main part of downtown Glenwood Springs.
Despite some noise and dust, Bullock’s stayed pretty busy all day, said Caitlyn Boe, an employee at the western clothing and furniture store. Boe thought that plenty of curious people were walking downtown to check out the demolition, not to mention the draw of the newly opened Doc Holliday Museum in the basement.
Though there might have been some racket from crews ripping up the bridge, the intersection was pleasantly lacking its normal road rage, she added. “I think everyone is working together pretty well,” said Boe.
She, along with the rest of Bullock’s staff for the day, rode RFTA from Rifle to the north side of the pedestrian bridge. Lots of other Glenwood business owners and employees took advantage of the bus, she said.
Carole O’Brien, manager of the Book Train, lives in New Castle and opted to take a RFTA bus into Glenwood Monday morning. “We had lots of bus newbies along for the ride,” she said. And the new experience for many made a pretty festive vibe of upbeat riders, especially as they cruised past the line of backed up cars in the detour, she said.
“Just our one bus represented a lot of cars off the road,” said O’Brien.
However, lots of cars driving the detour appeared to be commercial vehicles, so those people who don’t have any option but to drive the detour route are probably having a tough time, she added.
The noise level around the bridge demolition isn’t as intrusive as O’Brien had thought it would be. But it was a pretty slow day for the Book Train.
Still, O’Brien said that so much has been done to support downtown businesses up to this point, she couldn’t see what more could be added now. Some people on social media have commented that they’re going to avoid delays by simply staying away from Glenwood. But if people stay away entirely, in three or four months there won’t be much in Glenwood to come back to, she warned.
The bridge demolition was a bit of a spectacle for a regular gathering of onlookers atop the pedestrian bridge.
Kelly Rogers of Colorado Springs and his wife were paying their annual visit to Glenwood Springs. He stopped on the ped bridge to watch the large pieces of equipment tearing apart the old highway bridge.
“We’ve been coming here since I was born, and one of the things people always complained about was how narrow that bridge was, and the traffic,” Rogers said. “It’s kind of sad to watch it go down, but it will be nice to have a new one.”
Also among the onlookers was Joe Krizmanich, who said he moved to Glenwood Springs in 1954 right after the existing bridge was opened.
“Those were the best years to be in Glenwood,” he said. “I doubt this new bridge will have the same kind of history.”
Krizmanich said he thinks Glenwood is bearing the brunt of the construction mess for the benefit of Aspen and its workers who commute long distances from the other side of Glenwood.
“After this, maybe it’s time for Aspen to step up and pay for a tunnel under Cottonwood Pass,” he said.
Last to drive across the old bridge just before it closed was Garfield County Assessor Jim Yellico and his family, including wife Myka and kids Elle, Hadley, Sayre and Mason, along with Mason’s girlfriend, Lauren Howell.
Yellico said they started waiting in front of the CMC building at Eighth and Grand a little after 11 p.m. Sunday, but several others had the same idea.
“We pulled out and one other car snuck out right behind us,” Yellico said.
Once on the north side of the bridge, he said the kids were encouraging him to pull a U-turn and try to head back over southbound. They turned and went around the Hotel Colorado to the corner of Sixth and Pine, and traffic control waved them through.
“We were honking and waving the whole way back over,” Yellico said. “We set out to do what we wanted to do, and we had a lot of fun doing it.”